By Rajan Hoole –
In perpetuating the system through giving unjustified promotions to its own favourites, the PA government was creating more problems for itself than it was solving. By so doing, it made a significant section of the security services secretly hostile to it and biding their time. Some of this came into the open in the weeks between the military setback in November 1999 and the presidential election of 21st December 1999.
This highlighted the dangers to a country without a consensus, no stable principles or stable goals. Politicians who unleash communal violence on the Tamils one day, could wax eloquently as peace makers handing over the Tamils to a fascist group another day, and then again thrash the Tamils in the name of fighting terrorism and uniting the nation. This happened in 1990 and we came close to a repeat in 1999. Where does such opportunism leave the Army and the ordinary soldier?
In a situation where the army leadership had been compromised, the LTTE’s attempt to create instability by using a suicide bomber to assassinate President Chandrika Kumaratunga showed how vulnerable the State was. Kumaratunga survived the assassination attempt on 18.12.99. However half an hour earlier another suicide bomber succeeded in assassinating Major General Lucky Algama, a prospective defence figure in a future UNP government. Despite apparently having reached an understanding with the UNP leadership and lulling them into complacency, the LTTE was not taking chances.
A potentially violent situation was defused because President Kumaratunge survived and appealed for calm through her secretary. She later admitted in a BBC interview that the Army had been “confused”. The fate of the country had come to hinge on one individual. Such a situation must not be allowed to occur again. It had arisen through the command structures of the Army and Police becoming undermined and fractured by politicisation. This danger would be minimised if officers are trained to regard the Law as the ultimate source of authority and see it as their duty to uphold it through given procedures, even when political authority is in temporary eclipse. This requires building strong and healthy traditions that have been continually undermined.
The assassination of Lucky Algama at the UNP’s Jaela rally brought into focus the dire consequences of the nexus between politics and crime on the one hand and on the other, sycophantic security services waiting on the governing party. The immediate suspicion fell on criminals working for local political bosses who were part of the ruling People’s Alliance. The Police failed to send out a general alert to warn security personnel at the meetings of President Chandrika Kumaratunga at Town Hall and Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe at Maradana.
Half an hour later Chandrika Kumaratunga with no premonition of danger, walked into the range of an LTTE suicide bomber, and survived with an eye-injury only because her car was in- between. It was the next day on the discovery of a severed head that Algama’s assassin was also identified as an LTTE suicide bomber. If the Police had been confident of the leading political parties as having ethical standards that rule out assassinations of opponents, their work would have been clear-cut. Not having to waste their energy covering up crimes of the ruling party would enable them to do a far better job of protecting leading national figures against terrorist attacks. As a further irony, it was from the Negombo-Jaela area that SSP Nimal Fernando was transferred out in early 1996 for his efforts to crack down on lawless elements under PA patronage. This was raised with President Kumaratunga by the IGP but to no avail and the officer was later hounded out of the Force.
Thus, the sensible course for any government to adopt is to take some risk and give officers their due based on merit and seniority irrespective of party sympathies. That would bring an end to costly and debilitating politicking within the security services and the country would become safer. These pertain to lost traditions that need to be recreated.
*To be continued.. next week “The Fall of Elephant Pass: The System Cannot Hold”
*From Rajan Hoole‘s “Sri Lanka: Arrogance of Power – Myth, Decadence and Murder”. Thanks to Rajan for giving us permission to republish. To read earlier parts click here